Blake Lively has one notable screen role and three “Vogue” covers to her name. In “The Age of Adaline,” her first film since 2012’s “Savages,” the former “Gossip Girl” seems to be auditioning for a fourth cover shoot with Anna Wintour, posing in dozens of retro-inspired outfits and embodying a tony, effortless sophistication that’s cooler than chilled champagne.
“Adaline” even feels like a magazine celebrity profile: We’re told repeatedly that Lively’s character is gorgeous, intelligent, charismatic, endlessly fascinating — her faults are harder to find than a blemish on that dewy, radiant face. Such perfection rarely lends itself to narrative interest, though, which is why those profiles are frequently so tedious and predictable. It’s also why director Lee Toland Krieger’s follow-up to “Celeste & Jesse Forever” is a gorgeous but instantly forgettable dud.
Lively plays Adaline, a woman who stopped aging just shy of her 30th birthday and must adopt a new identity every 10 years to keep her eternal youth a secret. (The explanation for her inability to grow older makes about as much sense as Frankenstein’s monster coming to life via thunderbolt — it’s silly, but not worth dwelling on.) The only person who knows about Adaline’s strange condition is her daughter (Ellen Burstyn), a retiree contemplating a move from gray San Francisco to Arizona.
It’s too bad J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz’s screenplay hardly bothers to provide Adaline (now living as Jenny) with an inner life, because Lively is perhaps the best she’s ever been here. Speaking with natural authority and clipped, postwar elocution, Lively makes us believe that she’s Burstyn’s parent in the delightfully bizarre conversations between the twentysomething mother and the eightysomething daughter as they discuss dating and death.
Hiding for decades as a biological freak can lead to a great deal of capers and clever details — like how the only close friend Adaline has permitted herself to have is blind — but the film is sunk by its solemnity and aggressive twee-ness. (The production team could certainly come up with the world’s most endearing funeral.) Adaline finally risks heartbreak when she meets do-gooding young millionaire Ellis (Michiel Huisman, “Game of Thrones”), who seduces the bookish Jenny with his version of a bouquet of “flowers”: handsome editions of Henry James’ “Daisy Miller,” Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine,” and Janet Fitch’s “White Oleander.” (If the Etsy-ness of that last paragraph made you want to throw up, this film is not for you.)
Before Adaline can tell Ellis about her inability to age, the positive sides of which are completely and bewilderingly ignored by the script, his father William (Harrison Ford) figures out the truth. William, it turns out, was one of the very few men Adaline let herself be loved by, and his discovery of her immortality leads to a few melodramatic twists in line with the film’s easy sentimentality.
Despite the great turn from Lively, Adaline isn’t much more than a beautiful shell of a character, draped in elegant librarian-chic outfits, her blond locks curled just so and her bottom lip tucked primly under her teeth. Even when she’s later found lying on the side of the road, a lace of blood crowning her forehead, a close-up on her nails reveals flawless pearly crescents, each a manicured micro-marvel.
“The Age of Adaline” begins with such a wackadoo premise that you wish the filmmakers would commit to the nuttiness, or at least explore and explain how its weird world works. Instead, Adaline’s forever-29 status just sprinkles some cheese on a timid and unimaginative, if stylishly framed, romance. If “Adaline” were a fashion-magazine cover story, the pictures would certainly merit a glance — but maybe skip the article.